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Donna DeCarolis

Founding Dean of the Close School of Entrepreneurship of Drexel University

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The Value of Moderation in Leadership Styles

July 05, 2016

Learn about the leadership styles that work - and the ones that don't!

Narcissism

Label someone as “narcissistic” and the implication is probably negative for most people. However, a narcissistic personality, like other personality types, has both good and bad characteristics. What is interesting is that in leading companies, a little bit of narcissism can be very productive.

The narcissistic personality in general is independent, innovative and driven. In startups, in particular, a narcissistic leader will set a great vision, and through their charisma and ideas are able to attract followers. The energy and confidence that narcissistic leaders exude is contagious; this can be a real plus in new ventures and even in established companies that need to undergo dramatic changes.

On the negative side, the confidence can get out of hand so that a narcissistic leader blocks out criticism and can become a poor listener. There is evidence of this type of leader being so confident of their history of success and vision that they ignore any evidence to the contrary. In many cases, their strong personalities can lead to their being isolated, and frequently, they are not comfortable with their own emotions.

Keep in mind that most of us are a mixture of personality types, with narcissism being part of that mix. And it is possible to be aware of narcissistic tendencies that could get out of control. The easiest way for the narcissistic leader to stay in check is to have a trusted associate as an “anchor;” perhaps a senior advisor or other member of the management team.

Power

Leaders have power, but don’t think that power equals leadership. If this is your first time running a company, you might be subject to an overinflated sense of power as your employees listen to you and follow your vision. Research has shown that when people believe they have more power they also think they have more control. This can make you inclined to take dangerous risks, thinking that nothing can go wrong.

Your ability to lead is directly related to the trust that your employees have in you. This trust erodes when leaders think they are invincible. A narcissistic leader may not only take foolish risks but their attitude may alienate employees, particularly if the company is starting to fail or not achieving its goals. Worse, arrogant leaders will breed a similar culture of distrust and disrespect.

The best antidote to reining in narcissistic behavior is to deliberately hire a team that is willing to confront you with difficult issues. Advisory boards can also be helpful. But most of all, a good dose of self-awareness coupled with a personal attitude that is open to feedback is the best cure for unchecked power.

Positivity

Having a positive affect – a tendency to be cheerful, energetic, optimistic – is a great personality trait. There are several beneficial outcomes of having a positive disposition: studies have found that positive dispositions enhance career success and promote high quality social relationships. However, there is a downside: very high levels of such a positive affect can interfere with perception, motivation and most importantly self-regulation.

And this is why it is essential that entrepreneurs pay attention to their “legendary” positive attitudes. A high level of positive affect might have adverse consequences when starting or growing a company. For example, it can cause entrepreneurs to overlook details that may be crucial to their development and success. In addition, high levels of a positive affect might interfere with key aspects of self-regulation. For instance, they may reduce entrepreneurs' capacity to stay “focused” on important goals, or to resist various temptations. Finally, very high levels of a positive affect have been found to increase impulsiveness, which, in turn, may lead entrepreneurs to pursue innovations unlikely to yield economic value.

So while positive outlooks assist in handling setbacks and surging forward, entrepreneurs might temper such outlooks that cloud reality.

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